Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mankading - II

Virender Sehwag revealed that Ravichandran Ashwin did warn Lahiru Thirimanne before "mankading" him. However, in the same article, it is revealed that this was not apparent to the viewers, or to the Umpires because Ashwin didn't actually try to run him out (and demonstrate to Thirimanne or the Umpire that Thirimanne was backing up too far) before doing it. The warning, had it been offered, should have been made clear to the Umpire. This episode is an interesting one because in some ways, it goes to the heart of the sport. Subash Jayaraman likens mankading to base stealing in baseball. Duckingbeamers wonders whether there is anything beyond the text. My friend Amogh raised an interesting point about the law itself in his comment to my previous post on this issue.

The involvement of Jacques Derrida is dubious, because the issue here is the constitution of the 'text' of cricket -does it include only and exactly the 42 written Laws, or does it also include the many centuries of cricketing practices across the cricketing world? So the derridean assertion that there is nothing outside the text need not be challenged here. But nevertheless, the question about the laws is an interesting one.

Subash's analogy with base stealing is an intriguing one. In my mind it raises the question of the status of taking a start in cricket within cricket's 'text', as opposed to the status of base stealing within baseball's 'text'. Base stealing is a common phenomenon in baseball. It is 'stealing' only in the sense that a share of a run is completed without a hit being made. Beyond that it has been perfectly legitimate in baseball for at least a century. As a statistic, base stealing has seen a change in recent years with the advent of a new measure called 'defensive indifference'. A stolen base is granted only if the pitcher makes an effort to have the runner picked off at 2nd or 3rd base. If the pitcher makes no effort to stop the runner, the advance from first to second, or second to third is not considered a "steal". This is significant given the sense in which Subash uses the idea of the "steal". His point, it seems to me, is that if it is fair for the runner to steal a base, then it is fair for the pitcher to try and pick him off. In the case of mankading, it is not quite the same thing. Firstly, scoring a run in cricket is not the same as scoring a run in baseball (strictly speaking, runs are defensive in cricket, while they are offensive in baseball, while outs are offensive in cricket, while they are defensive in baseball). Secondly, it is far less common. Now, mankading (and backing up) could turn out to be an "inefficiency" in cricket in the moneyball sense of the word, but that is something that remains to be seen. 

Amogh argues that as per the Law (which I quoted in my post), Ashwin could not have mankaded Thirimanne once he entered his delivery stride. The ICC has changed this rule, effective October 1, 2011. In its latest form (pdf link, see page 3.23 in this document), Law 42.15 states that
the bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run out the non-striker. Whether the attempt is successful or not, the ball shall not count as one of the over. if the bowler fails in an attempt to run out the non-striker, the umpire shall call and signal dead ball as soon as possible.
The requirement about the delivery stride has been removed. If Thirimanne was unaware of the rule change, then, according to the old rule Amogh is probably right. Thirimanne was well within his rights to take a start once the bowler had made his delivery stride (the stride just before the leap).

One widespread view (Subash's reading of the episode is a close cousin of this view) is that the "spirit of cricket" such as it is, had nothing to say about the mankading episode. Sidharth Monga takes this view firmly on Cricinfo. There are a couple of moves in this position. The first is to turn the "spirit of cricket" into some kind of idiosyncrasy - some kind of peripheral indulgence. A second view of the "spirit of cricket" is that it is some kind of technicality - just another written law (which it is not) to the effect that everybody who plays cricket should be a gentleman. In this second view, fairness is similarly considered in a very technical way - anything within the letter of the law is by definition - fair. Such a view would involve accepting that bowling 2 bouncers an over to Chris Martin is "fair" (it is legal, for sure, but is it really fair?).

Consider a batsman who has a pulled hamstring, and is basically unable to stretch forward. How often have we heard commentators (and even wicketkeepers) enthusiastically advise spin bowlers to throw it up, draw the batsman forward, make him extend that damaged hamstring. How many times have we heard that a batsman, who has just been hit on the head (or the helmet) or the shoulders, be given yet another short one - yet another perfume ball, just when he might be a little scared about the short ball (while he normally wouldn't be)?

The point that is made by people who think mankading should be attempted as a matter of course (just as a run out is attempted) is that the batsman is trying to take undue advantage by taking a start. This, in my view, is far from clear. I think it is much clearer that the batsman is taking a risk, possibly even an undue one, but does this always work out to his advantage? For example, what if striker hits the ball firmly back to the bowler? Isn't backing up too far a risk in such an event? Or what if he hits to a spot where the non-strikers end becomes the danger end as far as completing the run is concerned? Wouldn't the decision to run be affected by the fact that the non-striker has taken a long start?

The change in Law 42.15 since October 1, 2011 does seem to have been made with the purpose of making mankading a more common thing. The idea seems to have been to make it easier for bowlers to dismiss batsmen at the non-strikers end.

What is intriguing about the use of the phrase "spirit of the game" in relation to this episode (and this comes through especially in Monga's commentary) is how easily it has been assumed that India's actions were out of concern with the 'spirit of the game'. I think this is far from obvious or essential. In the West Indies in 2011 there was an episode where VVS Laxman was out stumped in a cheeky way (he was not over balanced, neither had he advanced down the wicket, he had left the ball alone and raised his back leg as it took a step sideways). When Rahul Dravid referred to that episode after the Ian Bell controversy, he brought up the "spirit of the game", but he also said that it didn't seem right.

This it seems to me is the essence of the idea of the "spirit of the game". Whatever you do has to seem to be the right thing to do in an ethical, sportsmanlike sense. Dravid's explanation was beautiful in that it employed the idea of empathy (how would India feel if they stole a wicket that way, or if they had a batsman dismissed for making the kind of mistake that Ian Bell did). It is not a question of whether or not Dravid would like it if it was done to him. Im sure he hates it every time he's bowled. The question is whether Dravid would think it was right if it was done to him.

In this sense, the question, spirit wise, seems to me to be - Does it seem right? And Sehwag decided that it didn't. I support that choice. Having said that, I do think that mankading will become far more commonplace in cricket given the new rule.


  1. The change in Law 42.15 since October 1, 2011 does seem to have been made with the purpose of making mankading a more common thing. The idea seems to have been to make it easier for bowlers to dismiss batsmen at the non-strikers end.

    I don't agree with this. I think the change was made (I think it's a reversion to an older law) because under the previous law, non-strikers were backing up a LONG way, without very little risk to themselves. I don't think the law-changers expected the change to result in more Mankads - rather they expected non-strikers to stop backing up so far, and for the traditional "warning to force the non-striker back a little" game to continue.

    I don't get the fuss over Mankads. Two or three Mankads without warnings, and everyone will get over it.

  2. KD, I think an important point that needs to be addressed here is, where does in all this, what Thirimanne did figure in? He was taking unfair advantage of the general leniency that the sport had accorded to the batsmen backing up over so many years. There had been a rule change in 2011 to curb it and he yet continued do it, as do almost all other batsmen. The point is, why didn't Paul Reiffel enforce the rules of the game? Did he not know the rules? If he did, Why did he have to go and discuss with Bowden? All this Spirit of Cricket and all that doesn't even apply in this situation.

    In terms of my comparing the base stealing in MLB and backing up in Cricket, was to show that there need not be any moral argument about what is the right way to approach the situation, that is about it.

  3. David:
    My sense is that the ICC has been trying to redress this balance between bat and ball in all sorts of ways. David Richardson recently said that one of the points of using DRS was to redress the extent of the benefit of doubt that captains got.

    I have no problem with the Umpires going to ask Sehwag whether the appeal was serious. They were right to worry that it wasn't because Sehwag withdrew it. All modes of dismissal are not created equal.

    As Sehwag's press conference revealed, the Umpires were probably unaware of the warning that Ashwin gave to the batsman.

    As for Thirimanne, yes he was probably trying to take undue advantage (or an undue risk, depending on how you see it). And yes, I think he should have been mankaded after Ashwin's warning. The Umpires and Sehwag being right does not absolve Thirimanne, as the Sri Lankan captain himself admitted.

    An equivalent case would probably be this - If Thirimanne had defended a ball at his feet, and then, as the fielder walked up to pick it up, picked it up himself and thrown it to the fielder. If the fielder appealed for handled the ball, technically, it would be Out. But the Umpires should, in my view, check with the captain about the seriousness of the appeal before giving it Out.

    This is true as per the letter of the law, as well as the spirit of the law. Law 3.1, in the latest ICC version is very clear:

    "[T]he umpires shall control the game as required by the laws
    (as read with these playing conditions), with absolute impartiality and shall be present at the ground at least two hours before the scheduled start of the first day’s play, and at least 1.5 hours before the scheduled start of each succeeding day’s play"

    The game is not controlled by laws, but by umpires in accordance with the laws. The Umpires still have ultimate control, they are not merely clerks/technicians who enforce the law.

  4. Firstly, nearly everything David said. (I'm quite happy to consider that the traditions of cricket expect a warning, but whatever you call it, that particular tradition c/should be lost in a hurry.)

    Secondly, I agree with Kartikeya's description of the role of the umpires, however I don't think it really matters whether they knew anything about a warning. That's still the captain's business.

    Thirdly, some pedantry regarding the state of the rules as Kartikeya describes them here. Under the current laws, as Amogh says, the bowler can 'mankad' before the back foot lands in the delivery stride, and indeed if the back foot has landed, the umpire should call dead ball (Law 23.4(ix)). The various most recent ICC playing conditions (the relevant clause in this case is actually the identical one on page 4.28 of that document) modify Law 42 to allow mankad later (but not by throwing, even before the delivery stride?), but fail to modify Law 23 to match this. While the intention is clear, I think the ICC condition writers have under a strict reading failed to make the change they intended!

    Lastly, since I expect nearly everyone feels this is a disappointing wicket even if unquestionably valid, I wonder how it would go down if a bowler repeatedly went through the motions of running out a batsman or generally making the ball dead in response to early backing-up, but never appealed for the dismissal.

  5. I agree with most of what Kartikeya says. Except that, a batsman backing up is taking 'undue advantage' and not 'taking a risk' as he puts it. The non-striker is constantly in touch with the striker and it can always be conveyed to him to just play the ball with soft hands and then the non-striker gets a head start to the danger end. So, the batsman is taking undue advantage.

    It is very unlikely that the striker is unaware of the non-striker's intentions and unless a gross mistake is made, the ball will never be hit firmly to the bowler. Even then, for the bowler to shift momentum from his follow through and turn back and run him out will offer enough time for the non-striker to be safe.

    So, just saying, the only risky part of backing-up is really a very unlikely event.

  6. In todays TV controlled world of cricket viewing, the captains can use the following strategy to be within spirit and still ensure no such confusions. Whenever a batsman tries to take advantage, get them mankaded. Then take the appeal back. That will ensure batsmen don't do it again. If they do, they are to blame. This also leaves no confusion among bowlers on how should they act in such situations.